(Oct. 16, 2020) Councilman John Gehrig is not afraid of a bad idea, in fact, he would rather be told his idea is terrible than to not hash it out at all — a frustration that has built, and now bubbled over, during his tenure on City Council.
“I have learned that there’s a lot to it [being a councilman],” Gehrig said. “I learned that it requires a lot of listening, learning and asking questions. You can’t be afraid to raise your hand in class.”
Gehrig graduated from Lehigh University with a bachelor of science degree in marketing, and went on to create his own marketing company, D3 Corp.
He formerly served as the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce’s president, and is a member of the tourism and recreation and parks committees.
“I think business skills are required at the council level. Otherwise, we rely on taxes and fees as the fallback,” Gehrig said.
His tenure began four years ago in 2016, when he filed last minute and then bulldozed his way onto the council garnering the most votes that year and edging out incumbent Doug Cymek.
Over the years, Gehrig said he felt that there was a lack of urgency among his peers.
While the resort has grown, so too has its expenses, and city officials have lamented that fact on several occasions.
Gehrig said he has sent countless emails and spreadsheets filled with revenue-generating ideas and ways to finance them through tourism and marketing funds, but received little to no response.
He referred to a recent council meeting during which councilmembers chided him for violating the Maryland Open Meetings Act, rather than commenting on his proposals.
Under the act, business correspondences, with particular focus on emails, between a quorum of council members are disallowed, as it blocks the public from participation and knowledge of the subject matter.
The proper protocol would have been to ask the council president or city manager to include the topic in a meeting.
““I tried gently working with the group to express reason … and patience and it’s not our will, it’s not our nature, it gets nowhere,” he said. “ That approach has not worked, so now I’m taking it all public. It’ll all be in council meetings [and] it will all be through the press.”
Gehrig said he would rely on the public to put pressure on the mayor and council to take more action.
“If the ideas stink, then the public will tell me [it] stinks,” Gehrig said. “If they’re good or need to be perfected or they can be combined with someone else’s idea — I mean that’s the purpose of brainstorming. We don’t do that. We just don’t do it, and we constantly say, ‘Woe is me, what bad luck.’”
Gehrig said this lack of action and sense of immediate need has exacerbated the city’s problems, particularly early June criminal activity and pop-up car rallies.
“We have no urgency, we don’t have passion,” Gehrig said. “I don’t live that way. I live like I’m on fire. I want the most out of every minute of my life and I live with some urgency.”
Gehrig said this passion was both his greatest strength and weakness, as it gave him the drive needed to tackle problems, but also could lead him to making rash decisions.
Nevertheless, he hopes to spread this energy among his peers, if he is reelected.
“Everything we do is reactionary, so we’re dealing with the symptoms of the problem and we’re not dealing with the problem,” Gehrig said.
He used the recent, and ongoing, electric bicycle ban as an example.
The council chose to ban the bicycles on the Boardwalk, although the ordinance must go through one more round of votes, based on safety and enforcement concerns, despite police saying there have been no electric bicycle-related incidents.
Gehrig questioned why the council was focused on banning electric bicycles and not the plethora of other, perhaps, more pressing issues, such as the pop-up car rallies, excessive noise, marijuana smoking and open displays of profanity.
“We have to hire more police officers at a cost of more than $1 million a year because we didn’t do our job 10 years ago when H2Oi (pop up rally) was solvable,” he said.
He said at the time, he had recommended repurposing the tourism fund and using a piece of it to find promoters to fill the city with guests the city wants.
“The only weakness of a mob is that it’s a mob,” Gehrig said. “If we can constrict the inventory and fill the town, say 75 percent, then it’ll be harder for them to get rooms, the remaining rooms will be more expensive.”
The idea fell on flat ears, he said, and now the situation had escalated into a crisis.
Some of his ideas, or those he has advocated for, have gained ground in the past year.
For instance, Gehrig has been avid about hiring a “salesperson” to attract more promoters to Ocean City, and the city is currently developing the position.
Additionally, he has pushed for a county-city sports complex, which also gained momentum this year and County Commissioner Joe Mitrecic informed the council earlier this year that he would come to city officials in December to talk about the project.
Nevertheless, Gehrig said with such high stakes more needed to be done.
“I live here, this is extremely personal, maybe it’s even a little selfish,” Gehrig said. “I don’t want my kids to get out of high school and leave [Ocean City] … it is so rare when we think about where we live and how few places have what we have, and to watch it decay it makes me want to cry. So I am on fire.”
Gehrig and Councilman Tony DeLuca are joined by Dan Hagan, Nicholas Eastman and Frank Knight, Councilwoman Mary Knight’s husband, in the race for City Council.
The election will take place on Nov. 3, at the Ocean City convention center on 40th Street, from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Bus transportation to the convention center will be free.